06/06/2010 : Football League Blog : On The Agenda At The Football League AGM
6 June 2010 : On The Agenda At The Football League AGM
With the Football League's AGM taking place over the next three days, starting today, the 72 club Chairmen and Chief Executives have a number of things to chew over before they can sip their gin and tonics beside their hotel pool in Malta.

One of the most emotive topics is likely to come from an item tabled by Leyton Orient Chairman Barry Hearn, whose long-running campaign for clubs who fall into administration will see a call for clubs suffering a double relegation for any insolvency event. Obviously for some football clubs, that will be like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas and the vote may come down to which clubs are confident that their finances are being managed properly.

League One side Oldham Athletic agree with Hearn that the current 10 point penalty is insufficient, but Chief Executive Alan Hardy, who is one of three Latics representatives out in Malta feels that the proposals from Leyton Orient may be a bridge too far:

"I think the plan will focus a few minds; without wanting to name a few names, certain clubs spend a bit more than they can afford and it could be they have to go into administration at the start of next season when theyíve already been promoted on the back of their misdemeanours. Iíve got to be convinced that relegation by two divisions is the right move. Perhaps it could be a guaranteed relegation by one division instead of a points deduction because some clubs could have points taken away and still avoid relegation. I donít think the 10-point deduction is enough of a penalty but itís certainly going to create an interesting talking point."

Our suspicion is that Mr Hearn may be adopting a classic bartering position by demanding the "two divisions" relegation rule be introduced, but recognising that a call by the likes of Mr Hardy for a single division relegation may get him what he realistically wanted in the first place. Any increase on the current inadequate penalties have to be a step in the right direction.

One of the more familiar company names involved when clubs fall into administration is Begbies Traynor. Amongst their ranks is the name of Gerald Krasner, who is a former Chairman of Leeds United before they went belly-up, and was the administrator in charge of AFC Bournemouth's much dragged out insolvency process.

In the wake of Championship side Crystal Palace being minutes away from commencing liquidation proceedings last week, Krasner says that he is glad that the South London club did not go to the wall, but claims that numerous other Premier League and Championship sides are living on the edge:

"The news that Crystal Palace has been saved is a welcome relief for all those connected with the club but should serve as a wake-up call to a number of football clubs up and down the country. Our data shows that there are eight Premier League and Championship clubs with 'critical' financial problems, issues that may well get worse given that clubs will see the usual reduction in income over the summer months now that the domestic football season has finished. It is imperative these clubs take steps as soon as possible to address these issues, otherwise Crystal Palace won't be the last club we see teetering on the brink of liquidation."

As covered earlier today, Government tax body HMRC are seeking to challenge the legality of current CVA rules, and it would seem inevitable that this will also land on the Football League's AGM Agenda. This is the first AGM that will be chaired by Lord Mawhinney's successor Greg Clarke and he says that there is a whole raft of issues that need to be sorted out in this area. Speaking to The Guardian he says:

"Do people deserve to know who owns their football club? Yes. Do we want fit-and-proper people running our football clubs? Yes. Do we want to make sure that clubs can't take huge risks and not pay the taxman? Of course, it's outrageous. It is impossible, even if I wanted to, to tell the clubs what to do. We have got good cost management in League Two and we'll be debating how to drive that into League One and the Championship. But the higher you go up the harder it gets."

Speaking prior to HMRC's decision to take legal action, he admits that there are moral issues in prioritising football debt above local creditors:

"We use the football creditor rule to make sure if one clubs fails it can't easily drag down the rest. There are benefits but there are also moral hazards. If you are selling assets to football clubs because you are protected from risk, are you doing dumb things? It's not clear to me where the balance of that argument is. How on earth can you screw the local pie supplier and St John Ambulance and your charity partner, and pay other football clubs? That's morally indefensible."

In terms of current clubs in administration, there is still no actual news concerning relegated Stockport County, who have had a number of false dawns, firstly by the long-gone Melrose Consortium, but more recently from the 2015 Group (is that the date they plan to complete the deal?) who on Thursday issued their latest statement saying that they were unable to obtain their 'Golden Share' for the new legal company to take membership of the Football League.

The reason given? Apparently "the Football League will not be able to sign off the Transfer this week, purely due to the fact that key personnel are out of the UK until late next week". Are they in Malta, perhaps? Who'd have thought it? Firstly, you'd think that Stockport might have noticed the Football League's AGM was on the calendar, but secondly, do they not have their own representatives at the meeting as well, who could have taken the paperwork across? In the meantime, a press conference, and a celebratory Open Day at the club have had to be postponed.

The deadline that Stockport face is the first day of the 2010-11 season. If this drags on, then we certainly will have huge sympathy with whoever is due to face them on the opening day of the season, given that this 14 month farce could result in that club not knowing if they will be able to kick-off their season until the day itself. If Stockport fail to come out of administration by that date, then they will be expelled from the Football League.

It didn't take long though, for the vultures to start circling overhead in anticipation of this. Grimsby Town, relegated from the Football League at the end of last season, in 23rd place, suddenly saw a light at the end of the tunnel. However, just as they thought they could take advantage of someone else's misfortunes, up stepped a Football League spokesman to tell them that reinstating Grimsby would not be on any agenda in Malta: "According to Football League rules, we would operate with 23 clubs in League Two next season."

Bad luck Grimsby fans. Mariners chairman John Fenty is unimpressed by all of this, having argued this season that the reason why his side were in problems on the field of play was due to their refusal to overspend. He therefore isn't happy that in his view, they may lose out by the League not dealing strongly enough with a club that had over-reached itself:

"Stockport have been in administration for virtually two seasons. You would think the Football League would look at it knowing the situation for so long. Rules are rules but you would hope common sense would prevail rather than play with one less team next season. If that is the case, then it's rather surprising Ė it's something of a joke really."

Just as Stockport's perilous position contributed to their relegation to League Two this season, the same can be said of Southend United. They are back in trouble again, after they failed to pay their players and staff for the month of May. Once again, they have been placed under a transfer embargo until this is sorted. The Southend Echo claims that the PFA loan given to the club to help pay their wages in January has still not been repaid, and of course with little income coming the close season, it's hard to see how the Shrimpers' position will improve before the season starts. The same paper suggests that Southend also owe money to clubs who they had loan agreements with from last season. Any claims by Chairman Ron Martin that sorting out the mess with HMRC earlier this year would be the end of their worries appear to be wide of the mark, and players and fans at Roots Hall are beginning to lose patience.

In terms of finance, all of the above pales into insignificance with the arrival of a club in the Football League carrying more debt than a small Third World country. Well, almost. The actual figure declared by their administrators was £119m and they have still yet to set up an agreed CVA. Their creditors have been sent an offer of 20 pence in the pound, payable over five years, with a minimum of 75 percent of unsecured creditors needed to vote for the package to see it passed. A formal meeting will be held on June 18th.

The proposal has seen them offer to pay back an initial £3m in the first year from player sales, and to then follow that up with eight half-yearly payments of £1.687m starting during September 2011, to provide a final balance of £16.5m to be paid back to creditors. However, it has been reported that HMRC oppose this, requesting a six month CVA combined with an outright sale to a new party to clear the debts quickly.

Portsmouth are not being helped in terms of their relationship with the taxman, given that former Chairman Milan Mandaric and former Chief Executive Peter Storrie are currently facing charges of evading tax following an allegation of an offshore payment to end Eyal Berkovics's contract on which no tax was paid or declared. On top of that Mandaric and former manager Harry Redknapp also face two counts of cheating the public revenue, relating to two payments totalling $295,000 (approx £191,000) that were claimed to have been made via a Monaco bank account, whilst Storrie faces a separate charge of cheating the public revenue in relation to another player's sign-on fee. It's difficult to know how matters could be any worse for the image of Portsmouth Football Club and those who were employed or represented them.

Aside from all of these financial worries, the Football League still have to formally rubberstamp the Parachute Payments and Solidarity Payment arrangements informally agreed with the Premier League at the end of last season. That shouldn't take up too much debating time though, given that most of the exchanging of views came at the Bescot Stadium, Walsall when matters were more fully debated.

However, there's been no positive indication as to whether the Football League have fully discussed and agreed the plans to adopt - at Championship level, at the very least - the Premier League rules that insist that any club shareholders with more than a 10 percent stake must declare their interest on their club's official website. The example case being regularly cited is Leeds United, who by a happy coincidence are one of the second tier's newest clubs. Whilst the monetary aspects of the Premier League's package appeared to have been reluctantly accepted by the League chairmen, there was no word on where they stood on the issue of disclosing the ultimate beneficial owners of football clubs.

After they've got through all of that, and doubtless 101 other things, it will be time to retire to the bar and to the pool. Pity that pesky agenda gets in the way of things ...

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Comments On This Article
Daz Taylor said ...

I am sick and tired of my club struggling like hell against an uneven playing field. It is an absolute disgrace the likes of Leeds junked a lot of debt, then the next week went out and spent £500k on Paul Huntington etc.

The sooner we get some real deterrent in place for this, the better. I suggest an immediate points deduction so they finish bottom in the current season, then an additional relegation. So Portsmouth, as an example, would be in League One for the coming season.

At least this topic is on the agenda though.
06/06/2010 22:22:32

Daz Taylor said ...

Forgot to add, Greg Clarke's adds the following as your report details:

"Do people deserve to know who owns their football club? Yes"

Perhaps one of our supposed "Fans Representatives" should take note of this.
06/06/2010 22:24:30

'Cruncher' said ...

Just like to say congratulations an a bloomin' good article, as is also the HMRC one.
06/06/2010 23:43:42

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